By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen
The McPherson School District is still at odds when it comes to teacher negotiations. A resolution just could not be gained out of the numerous meetings between the teachers and school board. A public hearing has been scheduled as the next step. In the bargaining process, the McPherson Education Association negotiates teacher contracts. The teachers have a team and the school board has a team, as well as a federal mediator.
With many issues on the table, one of chief concern was teacher salaries. While this is an issue statewide, for a number of years, USD 418 has fallen short in regard to how they compensate those on the front lines of education.
“According to data shared in November at the Educate Kansas Dialogue Summit: Retention 2019, Kansas school districts reported 815 teaching vacancies in their schools for fall 2019,” McPherson Education Association Vice President and member of the negotiations team Erica Shook said. “If one looks at salary schedules and base salaries at other districts in the state, one can see how low USD 418 is comparatively (bottom third of the state).”
The negotiations continued with each side coming up with numbers, though neither coming any closer to a compromise. Things took a turn for the worse when a few short days after another failed negotiation, the school board approved administrative raises. In all the years Shook has been a part of negotiations, teacher contracts had always been settled first, then classified staff, then administration. With everything being public record, each teacher saw a breakdown of the raises.
“If we want to keep the great teachers we have and attract awesome new teachers as we experience retirements and other certified staff movements, we have to pay competitively,” Shook said. “Especially as we look at the cost of living and housing in McPherson and the availability of childcare.”
The quality of the teachers within the McPherson School District is not being questioned. Superintendent Gordon Mohn submitted multiple budget documents to the State Department of Kansas Education. Within the 2019-2020 Budget Profile it states, “McPherson USD 418 continues to be recognized as one of the leading school districts in Kansas and was recognized in 2013-14 as one of the first two innovative school districts in Kansas. The administrative, teaching, and classified employees of the district have many years of experience and dedication to the district. The school district together with the McPherson County Special Education Cooperative employs approximately 265 certified staff and administrators, and 380 classified employees. More than fifty percent of the district teachers have earned a master’s degree or higher.” A look at the budget itself can be found here.
All the back and forth eventually led to an impasse. An impasse meeting was held that went poorly and in the end amounted to very little. So now a hearing has been scheduled. The hearing will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 11 and is open to the public.
“The McPherson Education Association is currently working with a team from KNEA to gather information for our fact-finding presentation which will take place at the hearing scheduled,” Shook said.
In 2018 the Kansas Legislature approved a $500 million increase for education, to flow through schools over a five-year span. Both the KSDE and Kansas National Education Association suggested the best use of some of the funds would be to increase teacher salaries. The KSDE released a video, discussing the issue which can be viewed here.
An outpouring of support has been shown to the teachers of the school district and there are more ways to do so. Kansas National Education Association is making yard signs that say “We Support Our Teachers.” They will be ready for delivery as of Jan. 8. Contact Ricardo Sanchez, MEA President (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Erica Shook, MEA Vice-President (email@example.com) to order signs.